Is this what it has come to? A eight-minute Nikeathon in the name of female empowerment?

‘Margot vs Lily’ is an eight-part series of films about a feuding pair of sisters, and their struggles with life, friendship, work, family and fitness apparel.

After seven and a half minutes of tediousness, we get to the point: a bet.

The feuding sisters (think King Lear-lite) challenge each other: one has to get 3 more friends, the other has to get a thousand followers on Instagram.

Shut the front door. Things just got real.

Nike’s ‘Margot vs Lily’ series is an extension of the respectable #BetterForIt campaign of 2015. It feels like the culmination of years of industry soul-searching about own-brand content, vlogging, the on-demand economy, product integration, longform content and so on.

And it’s painful.

I could bang on about the production values, from how weirdly they’ve dressed the cast [pseudo-hipster-circa-2013-meets-Nike-mannequin], to weird props [teddy-bears for grown-ups and presentation boxes]. But I won’t. I won’t.

Let’s focus on authenticity.

Why can’t Nike cast women who aren’t models, like ‘This Girl Can’ did? Sport England’s campaign certainly wasn’t perfect – I even preferred the original Nike #BetterForIt films – but at least it was easier relate to the women featured.

Margot and Lily’s characters feel skin-deep and unbelievable. This may be a result of a script which is over-reliant on clichés about millennials. Or it could be an unanticipated consequence of brands creating fictional content: overbranding in production and distribution.

This is a brand-produced YouTube film series about fictional characters who mostly wear the brand’s products and who cross-promote the brand’s other products and content channels. The film’s YouTube blurb and its host website ( encourage viewers to find out more about (and buy) the products the cast were wearing. It’s too much.

You can imagine the content guru, kneeling on their fluorescent exercise ball in a meeting, exclaiming: ‘This is so meta’.

There’s a novel directness to it – the messaging isn’t exactly subliminal – but by stripping back a few of the excesses (such as the complementary films and the blurb), this campaign could have been just that little bit more likeable.

Now, what’s on Netflix?

Firstly, wow. Just wow. A new type of format on wordpress, mastered. Consider Beyond Red’s blog a testing ground for this kind of innovation for me.

Now then, take a look at this wee film. It’s great, the best film on Paul McGinley I’ve seen. High, high production values. An interesting, emotive story. A relatable, but aspirational star.

But I have a question for you.

What is the future of the corporate short film?

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again:

Everyone, but everyone, in sponsorship creates short films now. Some are better than others. Go YouTube rabbitholing – it’s full of them. Are they at the cutting edge of innovation like they used to be? And, more importantly, why do people watch them? What’s in it for the consumer? Not many brands know the answer.

And don’t say the future of corporate film content lies solely in Vines and GIFs, either. Not every brand can be funny.

Dan Snow was pretty cool on Periscope for the Black Horse Spitfire Dig, but what’s really interesting me now are multimedia long-form articles, the kind of thing the New York Times and BBC have been excelling at. Long, incredibly well-researched essays, with stunning photography and vivid video.

I’m interested to see whether brands can do the same. Do they have the journalistic credibility to do it? What story would they tell?

It’d be one hell of an investment, but, boy, wouldn’t it stand out…

Anyone else think the voiceover for this sounds like Lena Dunham?

#BetterForIt is Nike’s response to This Girl Can, and, in my humble, humble opinion, Nike’s campaign blasts Sport England’s out of the water.

There was a hell of a lot of back-patting within the marketing and sports media when This Girl Can launched earlier this year. A campaign to encourage more women to get into sport, which uses ordinary women in its content. Fantastic. What’s not to like?

The trouble is that This Girl Can was pretty patronising.

The launch this week of Nike’s #BetterForIt campaign has highlighted how This Girl Can could have gone about their task.

You see, I dabble in sport myself. Quite a lot. And while I may spend too many of my readies on sportswear, taking on the world’s judgment is not actually why I exercise.  I do it for myself, to get the rush from achieving my own goals, be that setting a new 5k PB or rattling through a batting line-up in cricket. The only person I’m trying to impress is myself.

I appreciate that a lot of girls feel self-conscious when they exercise, like the whole world is watching them and judging. But the reality is that the world isn’t. People are only focused on themselves.

Yes, This Girl Can’s films may include women of all sorts of body shapes (whereas Nike’s ‘normal’ women seem suspiciously like models), but #BetterForIt is actually the more inclusive campaign of the two. It appeals to those who are not really sporty and to sport junkies like myself.

Just happy to be pumping iron...

Just happy to be pumping iron…

It seems to say:

“The world laughs at me when I exercise, everyone stares at my wobbling flesh as I run, because I look so unfit. So I’m gonna prove ‘em wrong, once and for all, by going to yoga. Because it’s about their issues, not my own. And once I’ve done that, I’ll move on to the next issue in women’s rights…the queues for ladies’ loos.”

By comparison, I really like #BetterForIt. It recognises that the most powerful motivator for people looking to take up and continue sporting activity over a long period of time is for people to enjoy what they’re doing. That mental rush from being active is what keeps me going (even if I’ve missed my PB time, again). We’re not trying to prove anything to the outside world, but to constantly improve ourselves. It’s a personal thing.

And you know what? We may run terribly this time out and our PBs may suck, but, hey, we’re better for it.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate what This Girl Can set out to achieve. The world does need campaigns to get more girls into sport, and if This Girl Can gets results, then fantastic. But in the head-to-head between the two campaigns, which, ultimately, both want to increase participation, Nike has done the better job.

Sistahs FTW. Ahem.

Sports! Sports! Sports!

Yay! Sports!

Keep on running

I was asked recently to choose my favourite sponsorship campaign of the year, but as those who’ve ever read this blog before* will know, I can be something of a cynic when it comes to the finished creative work in marketing – compliments are a rarity. So it must be a sign that I really like something when I’m prepared to put the weight of the Swellicious brand behind it.

The campaign I’ll stick my neck out for is Nike Run’s work with Ellie Goulding. So her songs are a bit hit and miss**, but her agent has struck gold with this partnership with Nike.

The partnership is credible (Goulding is an enthusiastic marathon competitor), aspirational and innovative. Critically, there’s no hammy acting in the ads – it feels natural (unlike Joe Hart for Head & Shoulders and anything by Turkish Airlines or Man Utd players).

More and more, brands are looking to new places for ambassadors – Katy Perry has endorsed Adidas and Rio Ferdinand has supported HMV, for example. It’s part of a conscious effort by celebrities to broaden their brand. It can make them more interesting personalities for the media (giving them more opportunity to talk about their latest product, for example) and can generate, if successful, a whole heap of other deals.

This is the mistake many of the stars of London 2012 made. Many, including Greg Rutherford, complained in the months after the event that the expected sponsorship deals hadn’t flowed in, as promised. For Greg, it was probably not only down to the fact that little media attention is given to athletics outside Olympic & World Championship cycles, but also the fact that so many of the British medallists were one-dimensional personalities. Sure, keen amateur athletes might be inspired to buy the latest spikes if they were endorsed by Greg, but what about a broader audience – those not looking for performance-boosting apparel, but also for leisure wear?

Finally, a tell-tale sign of a good partnership is one that delivers for both parties. The Goulding campaign helps Nike reach a young, female audience, especially women who may not have been regular exercisers in the past. For Goulding it opens up the possibility of launching her own range of apparel & branded goods.  Compare this with Buxton’s work with Alastair Cook: a series of feature interviews in quality newspapers with the England captain*** with a simple italicised plug for Buxton Water at the bottom.

This campaign is a good model for other marketing teams to follow: build a partnership on the basis of a credible link with an ambassador who brings something new & unexpected to your brand.

There’s more to be written about how Nike & Adidas are changing their approach to the female sports market, but that’s for another day. As usual, my customary witty repartee has taken up too much space.

Merry Christmas


*Those few, those happy few.

**Goulding’s yet to make it on to the prestigious Redmandarin Running Club playlist.

***Subject to change if the current state of the Ashes series is anything to go by

Dishing the dirt

I’ve been writing about marketing etc in this blog for about 2 years now, I think. I appreciate that during this time I’ve probably come across as a bit boring: ultra-serious and unable to talk about marketing in anything less than reverential terms*.

To counter this image, I’ve decided to dedicate this post to another one of my hobbies: the English Language. Since starting at Redmandarin, I believe I’ve developed a reputation for two things: firstly, being absolutely hilarious, especially with regards to puns, and, secondly, for being a cool, hip, and, ultimately, trendy younger version of Lynne Truss.

This last bit has two elements: a close eye for grammar and spelling and attention for detail**, and my amazing list of marketing jargon.

This list has been created in response to the unrelenting stream of junk phrases or words that I come across everyday in the marketing world. Everyone seems to be guilty of slipping into clichés, clunky metaphors, or gross distortions of the language. Some of these are too horrific to publish, but the rest I give to you. Judge these, comment on them, and share:

15 of the worst:

  • 200% accuracy
  • Environ-mental
  • On the margins of work (i.e. unemployed)
  • One-stop- cloud-shop
  • End-to-end services and solutions
  • To optimise the interworking of your system environment
  • To bulletise
  • To diarise
  • In-bound contact resolution
  • A complete solutions company
  • Think-piece (no, not your brain, but an essay)
  • To download one’s thoughts (via face-to-face conversation, not the internet)
  • Nationalityness
  • Ethicalicity
  • A strategic business enabler

There are many more: some are worse, some are so everyday that you probably use them yourselves. If you find yourselves using any of the above phrases, then, as the saying goes***, hang your head in shame.

*’Boring’? Sarcasm to highlight heightened self-awareness? Hombre, I am brilliant.

***I very carefully spellcheck these blog posts about 2 hours after I’ve published them.

***which is also a saying.

Empty Shells

The internet is a scary thing. I would advise against using it. Here is my reasoning:

  • It is widely known that trolls operate on it. Not only do they assault people walking over bridges, but these days they also seem to roam this thing they call a web, dishing out caustic criticism.
  • Anyone can write awful articles on it, and still be read.*
  • There’s all these weird offshore gambling companies on there, enticing strange people to put bets on how many throw-ins there will be in the Wigan v West Ham game on Saturday. Bizarre.

Tenuous introductions aside, just who are 12BET, 188BET, bwin, 888, and Bet365?

These anonymous online bookmakers are taking over the world of football. Every Premier League club now has an official betting partner, if not a bookmaker as a shirt sponsor. It’s a game of copycat – just like technology firms raced to sponsor Premier League clubs in the mid 90s, and telecoms did the same in the noughties**, so bookmakers are each sponsoring football clubs because their rivals are doing it.

They’ve got lots of capital, and they’re desperate to spend it. But in shirt sponsorship, they don’t get good value. Yes, they get exposure for their brand, but not much more. They can’t control their message with it – how the football club and its players play and behave determines that. And they alienate potential customers who are supporters of a rival club. Furthermore, whilst the reach of the Premier League is international, the sponsorship value of West Ham, Wigan, Stoke and Swansea is fairly low, because these clubs are at such a high risk of relegation. That’s why Man Utd are able to sell their shirt sponsorship for tens of millions a year to an international car manufacturer, and West Brom to a US bookmaker.

But I think what is most bizarre is how meaningless the names of these brands are. 32red, Betfair, SBOBET, Bodog – they’re all just empty shells. This is because their advertising and sponsorship campaigns don’t do anything to attribute any values to these brands. Much like Comparethemarket and GoCompare, these brands tell consumers that they exist, but they don’t tell consumers anything more about them. For them, marketing’s only about shouting louder than their competitors.

So sponsorship in this way doesn’t work for bookmakers.

Sponsorship has the ability to change consumers’ behaviour and thinking, to associate emotions with brands, and to improve brand perception and brand consideration. As it is, the betting brands are under-using sponsorship’s potential.

The likes of 12BET and 188BET need to make their sponsorship work harder for them.

* Mwahaha! Gotcha. And so my site stats improve…

**‘Noughties’ will catch on

That Christmas ad

I need to get some stuff off my chest here, before I start another one of my scintillating entries into the blogosphere.

Firstly, I am no longer the free-spirited, care-free individual I used to be. I have a job. With a sponsorship consultancy called Redmandarin. So, to quote a wonderful Twitterism*, all these views are my own. Except for the ones which aren’t.

Secondly, I have not watched the ad I am about to talk about. This is part of a political protest at said advert, on a par with the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536), which protested Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. That big, that badass.

Thirdly, I am not going to name the ad I’m going to talk about. This is for the same reasons as above, and also to avoid improving the campaign’s Klout stats.

So here goes:

The nation has fallen in love with a certain British department store and, in particular, with its annual Christmas advert. Just like the Coca-Cola Christmas advert (with the trucks), Christmas 2012 started for many with the release of this advert. This is a remarkable achievement, both for the marketing team at this department store (and the group partnership) and for the agencies it employs. I’ve talked to friends and family about it, and all can identify it, and most can tell me the story. And they will all be on message if asked about what this department store brand stands for.

So why don’t I like it?

Because it’s creatively dull. I’m sorry to use ‘because’ at the start of a sentence like that, but I feel strongly about this, so extreme measures were necessary. I know the story is different in each year’s ads (one was about how this brand is there with you for life, the next about how it’s fun to give, and this year’s about a snowman (?)), but the way it has been done is the same. Cutesy, nostalgic stories, with a folksy female singing acoustically in the background, every time. Where is the novelty? It is becoming a cliche already.

It seems to me, as I said earlier, that the nation is in love with this brand. So much so that we don’t look sufficiently critically at it. Does it live up to its marketing promises? Aren’t its adverts just as much about the commercialisation of Christmas and life as all the others on TV? Isn’t there some hyprocrisy in its sister store Waitrose telling the public that it is not spending much money on  its Christmas ads so that it can give more to charity, when this department store has gone big on its own, which in turn benefits Waitrose?

This is a good campaign, and I do think this department store is excellent. However, I want more cynicism and scorn from the public!

If you’ve read this far, and put up with the fact I haven’t watched this ad, I salute you. I leave you with one more challenge:

Be more miserable, ladies and gentlemen.

*Yeah, mmm. Wonderful and Twitter in one sentence? Nah.